JCR: Why the cross-fertilization of art and fashion in the ’20s, ’60s and most recently in the ’90s and now?
MP: I think in the ’20s and ’30s there was the Bauhaus idea of merging design and art. During that time the surrealists showed an interest in fashion and Elsa Schiaparelli collaborated with some of them. In the ’60s there was pop art with an interest in popular culture and fashion turned to the street for inspiration.
JCR: And today?
MP: Fashion seems to be more interested in ideas than it was before the ’90s, and contemporary art is not afraid of mixing with the real world and being ephemeral, commenting on its time. Contemporary art is not as anxious to be autonomous either, because it seems nobody really is.
JCR: What essentially differentiates art from fashion?
MP: They are two different entities with two different operating systems. It’s not in the products they produce. It’s how the two different worlds are structured and what surrounds them. They have two different histories. If someone wants to make something new that challenges the system in which it is made, it may not have the same impact if it’s transferred to another system or context.
JCR: So do you think designers like Hussein Chalayan and Martin Margiela have created more of an impact and have dispersed their ideas to a wider audience by choosing the medium of fashion instead of art?
MP: Maybe so, but I also think that a lot of people enjoy their fashion without thinking of the conceptual aspects of it. The advantage of seeing their work in an exhibition is that those aspects become more evident.
JCR: Do you think fashion designers foray into art for different reasons than artists who dabble in fashion?
MP: Both yes and no. Though some argue, a bit cynically, that the art world is mostly interested in the money and glamour of fashion and fashion only interested in the cultural status and legitimacy of the art world, I think there are some ideas that interest both artists and fashion designers — questions about gender, sexuality, beauty, death, etc. But there are probably also other motives. I think many artists are also interested in both the visuality and the visibility of fashion.
JCR: The concern in deeming fashion art seems to have been the profit focus of the industry. However, now with Tracey Emin designing a set of bags for Longchamp and Chalayan crossing the border into art with his film, not to mention Lucy Orta’s work, which borders on architecture, art, and fashion. Is this argument slowly depleting because of artists’ commodification of their work?
MP: Making a separation because of commodity is not so relevant anymore. One reporter called and asked if we were marketing the designers. I replied that if you look at it in that context then we couldn’t show artist work because that would be marketing the artist. The blurring of all the design disciplines simply widens the audience for both practices. Those interested in art find that fashion can also be very interesting and vice versa. I think that some avant-garde or radical fashion has the same following as contemporary art. This is mirrored in the advertising and marketing of certain fashion houses. Some choose to advertise in art magazines, others sponsor art events or finance the opening of art galleries.
JCR: The forward of the Fashination exhibit states that the reason for putting the show together was not to claim that art is fashion or fashion is art but simply to pose a few questions in the borderland between the two. What were the main questions you were trying to raise?
MP: Part of the aim was to challenge the way people look at both art and fashion by bringing them together and seeing what happens when they meet in the same room. Visual investigation and the importance of context were aspects that we were trying to highlight. Things get read and interpreted depending on the context in which they appear. The same photographs appearing in an exhibition can be read differently when they are in a magazine.
JCR: What has the reaction to the exhibition been, from an artistic and fashion perspective?
MP: There have been a lot of positive responses from the fashion world. Swedish newspapers have been mixed. I think this is because it’s a provocative topic.
JCR: Were you aiming to be provocative?
MP: We were aiming to do a show that was not exclusively critical of fashion and the relationship between fashion and art. If we had made a show that was taking a highbrow attitude to commercialism, the art world would have been happier, but it wouldn’t have said anything new. We wanted to critique the fashion system, too. But there are also fashion designers who are critiquing the fashion world. They talk about the same topics as artists — political and social topics. The differences are not that great. Fashion and art are not the same thing, but it all depends on the self-image of the designer or artist. It depends on what channels they choose. The designers are quite clear about their own identity. Within the exhibition we purposely do not label who is an artist and who is a designer.
JCR: Do you think that the current consumer trend for individualism, in that consumers no longer want to look like clones of each other, and are looking to buy items that are less tangible and say something about their personality, has forced fashion designers to look beyond simple aesthetics?
MP: Yes. Fashion has also become more philosophical in the last decade. The division between “high” and “low” is slowly dissolving. Street culture, pop music, fashion, and other cultural expressions or fields, are being taken more seriously — and what they are saying is being discussed in more forums than just their industry. This of course inspires self-reflection.
JCR: Is this what has prompted the onslaught of culture magazines, which display both art and fashion (125, Doingbird, 032c) and retail stores such as Dover Street Market, Colette, Microzine, and B Store which offer fashion, furniture, art, and music within a curated environment?
MP: Yes, it seems to be an expression of that.
JCR: Miuccia Prada has openly admitted in interviews that she is more interested in architecture than fashion, does the future of design lie in the cross-fertilization of disciplines?
MP: It’s always difficult to predict the future. But I think it certainly makes it more interesting for me!
This interview was conducted by Gudrun Willcocks
Photos: Faschination Exhibition at Modern Museum of Stockholm:
Jun Takahashi / Under Cover